In this June 25, 2020 file photo, a price sign is displayed at a retail store as a store employee wears a mask while working in Niles, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) Small Business Loans
In this June 25, 2020 file photo, a price sign is displayed at a retail store as a store employee wears a mask while working in Niles, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Lower-income childless adults would also have access to a basic health plan if the proposal could pass the Legislature.

Wisconsin would establish an online public marketplace for health insurance—as authorized in 2010’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) for groups of 50 or fewer employees—and expand eligibility for BadgerCare, or Medicaid, under a proposal unveiled Monday by Democratic lawmakers.

It would provide childless adults with the option of a basic health insurance plan through BadgerCare—the state’s name for Medicaid—if their income is between 133% and 200% of the federal poverty line. Wisconsin currently cuts off access to BadgerCare if they make anything above the poverty line, about $14,000 per year for a single person.

“Many folks living just above the federal poverty line are uninsured or under-insured or pay for health care coverage they often cannot afford to utilize,” said Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde (D-Milwaukee). “And when private health insurance companies continually raise their costs, these are the people who suffer most.”

The bill is supported by two progressive interest groups: Main Street Alliance, which bills itself as a small-business alternative to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce—and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a statewide network of local grassroots organizers.

Wisconsin remains one of only 12 states to not expand Medicaid coverage to people making up to 138% of the federal poverty line, or less than $19,000  per year. That provision of the ACA has been blocked for a decade while Republicans control the Assembly and state Senate, preventing an estimated 91,000 people in Wisconsin in lower-income households from getting coverage and costing state taxpayers $1.6 billion in lost federal aid during the current 2021-23 state budget period. 

Expanding Medicaid is extremely popular, with 70% support in Wisconsin polls.

With the Wisconsin Legislature wrapping up its 2022 session, bills that are introduced now are designed less for actual passage and more to stake out a position with November voters—showing them what could be proposed next year, depending on election results. For legislative Democrats, one of those positions is that small-business workers and lower-income childless adults should not go with poor or no health insurance coverage.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) noted the state’s projected $3.8 billion budget surplus and another $1.7 billion in a “rainy day fund” defeat a typical Republican reason to oppose the plan—that the state can’t afford to cover the cost of coverage if federal aid disappears. 

“We’re out of excuses,” he said. “In a sane world, this bill would be the conservative solution. Instead, we have two political parties—the Democratic Party, which views health care as a right, and the Republican Party, which sued to block pandemic protections and would rather make people pee in a cup to prove they deserve health care rather than work to expand coverage to everyone.” 

The Democrats’ news conference introducing the legislation also included comments from small-business owners including Patrick DePula, who owns Salvatore’s Tomato Pies restaurant chain in Madison. According to a report by Wisconsin Public Radio, DePula said proposals like this help small businesses stay competitive. “In order to get working families back into the workforce, we need to be able to compete with larger employers in Wisconsin.”